“Let me tell you about the kitchen, it’s small, everything has to be made fresh, that guacamole, we make it when you order the sandwich, it hasn’t been sitting around. The sauces, the sauces are all less then two days old.” … “I work here, I should know everything about this place. I should know where we buy our produce, and where the wood of that table came from.” … “It came from a single tree in upstate New York, all the wood in this bar came from that tree.” … “What type of tree is it? You see that tall skinny guy at the bar, with his mother? He’s the owner, I’m going to go ask him, I’ll be right back.” – The Randolph
Ads are an ugly business. You barter away functionality, aesthetics, privacy, and performance for a marginal money maker predicated on using manipulation to get people to spend money they don’t have on things they don’t want. If you’ve ever experienced an old favorite website slowly descending into monetization (my canonical example is Alta Vista), you’ve experienced this viscerally, an old favorite slow selling off bits of itself for a few more hits of cash.
Then Google came along, and they went deep, they created a narrative of transcendental advertising. Advertising so good you wanted to see it. Advertising that was net positive. Advertising that would cause you turn off your ad blocker. And if you’re in an advertising supported business you probably even believe the narrative at some level. Ignore the data about who clicks on ads and why, or the insane degradation of most revolutionary communication medium since the printed word into SEO/SEM spam farms. Transcendental advertising, advertising as liberator, advertising for advertising’s sake, advertising as a higher calling. This is what I call “business transcendental”. A philosophy that is tied to your paycheck.
Watching folks responses to the iPhone 5 “Lightning” connector got me thinking about this. Apple has beautiful, breath taking reasons for launching a new connector. It’s innovative, it opens up previously unexplored options that most of us can’t even imagine yet. It’s the product of R&D by some of the best and brightest in the business, like the touch sensing pixel screen or the new thinking aluminum case. But it’s also planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescence is an ugly business. Uglier then advertising. I think, unlike advertising, most of us still recoil in disgust at gratuitous examples of planned obsolescence. Which is why transcendental planned obsolescence is so gut wrenching. Planned obsolescence as innovation, planned obsolescence as the pursuit of perfection, planned obsolescence as identity politics. Google is in the business of biz-transcendental advertising, Apple is in the business of biz-transcendental planned obsolescence. But the underlying business is as optional, and ugly as it ever was, and the transcendence is an illusion.
I backed App.net. The current iteration isn’t really compelling enough for me to use it, but I recently was deeply frustrated by the lack of edit on Twitter flipped over to App.net hoping that maybe it had added this most humanizing of features, but I was disappointed.
The Twitter that exists today is only one of the various Twitters that were posited over the years, it would be a shame if App.net cargo cults this Twitter rather exploring the space of Twitters.
Features from a handful of alternate Twitters:
the ability to edit a tweet. There are several patterns in community software for handling the “I responded and then you changed what you said” pattern. One of then is versioning. The other is a short window of edits. It’s a question of balancing how much you prefer the conversational integrity vs the benefits of a little hypocrisy to a person’s self expression.
archives. is this the record of your life and of culture, or a system for transmitting unrelenting now-ness? Dated archives are key toward setting the expectation that these items you share won’t disappear behind an event horizon of fuzzy human memory, available only in the vast archives of folks trying to sell you things. also, lose the relative dates after a little time has past, say like 2 days. Twitter uses relative dates because it was the preferred method for displaying dates in the Rails community, and it seemed pretty slick in 2006. (for point of reference in 2006 you were still using Myspace)
personal context/useful search. is it a platform for brands/celebrities/robots/blowhards to broadcast or is it a place to connect with a more intimate group? Twitter’s brilliance is in mixing these, but their bread is very much buttered by the brands. This is surfaced both in their disinterest in giving you ways to organize your view (lists) and also in not providing search context (within folks I follow, my tweets, my favorites, etc). of course Twitter did roll out search from people you follow. I love it. So thank you whomever got that out.
privacy. I was an early thorn in Twitter’s side about supporting the privacy settings. But honestly it was just always too much work to respond manually to follow requests or to maintain two separate accounts. Per status privacy and per status geo-privacy would go a long way towards changing the nature of what people share on Twitter away from re-publishing Mashable headlines.
annotations. the ghost feature that lived it’s too brief days in the Sun. Twitter works alright as a “magic word distribution system” (to steal Aaron’s description), but briefly there was the promise of it working exceptionally well. That was annotations. Structured data that could flow along side a tweet indicating that this was me discussing what I was listening to, what I was eating, two robots discussing the weather, part of a larger narrative arc, etc. Metadata that could be displayed or ignored by clients as needed, consumed by listeners as they desired. It makes status casting into something with the potential to surprise you with it’s uses rather then to re-tread. To the extent that Twitter extracts entities like URLs, identities and hashtags already you get a sense of how powerful this could be. It both upends and plays well with the OpenGraph inspired resurgence of microformat based structure data sharing.
federation. just going to leave this one here.
heterogeneous sources of statuses. a tweet is in someways the irreducible atom of web content. if in the era of monied interests (everyone since Postel) we can get interop on anything ever, it should be on tweets.
Those we a few I’d had my heart set on a various teams over the last 6 years. I’m sure there were others. Re-building Twitter without exploring any of the explored alternatives seems like a waste.
Openness has always been my favorite trend. At Etsy we talk about it as part of our “generosity of spirit” value. Just wanted to call out how much I’m loving seeing this trend on the blogs and engineering blogs across the industry.
Our What Hardware Powers Etsy.com?, was in part inspired by 37Signals Behind the Scenes: The Hardware that Powers Basecamp, Campfire, and Highrise. I’d love to see more teams posting in this series.
And our recent post taking a non-technical approach talking about a series of recent outages, felt a little less lonely, and risky, knowing out there with Soundcloud’s Shoot yourself in the foot with iptables and kmod auto-loading, and Simple’s Transparency.
This is how we get better as an industry.
- Though sustainability is a close second. Sometimes they flip flop. But that wouldn’t have been relevant to this blog post.
I backed Postcards from Erik the Red’s House a while back. I like the small projects on Kickstarter, they make me happy, as does Iceland, as does someone writing their first novel.
Today my postcard arrived. It was a sunset in Vik. In particular it was of Reynisdrangar, 3 black basalt stacks just west of Vik. I’ve seen Reynisdrangar. In fact I woke up on a black sand beach, surrounded by sheep, looking out at Reynisdrangar.
We pulled into Vik late in the day. We’d been on the road for 5 or 6 days or so at this point in our circumnavigation of Iceland. We’d planned to drive on further, but as the road climbed up out of Vik we were exhausted. Also Jasmine had bought a funny hat at Vik wool. I’m not sure if that’s relevant to the story. We turned off on a side road at the top of the hill looking back over Vik, and drove until the road turned to sand, and we could see waves in the last of the day light. We pitched the tent by head lights, and went to sleep.
And woke up the next morning, unzipped the tent and found a flock of sheep, and Reynisdrangar.
Here’s the postcard
Camping on that beach is one of my favorite memories. Nice to be reminded of it. This is the network, making the world demonstrably better. That is all.
oldtweets is a search engine for the first year of Twitter.
A bunch of folks asked about the how. The Twitter API provides a method for fetching a tweet by ID. So to build an index of the first year of Twitter you need call the api for each ID in the range of IDs 1-20,000,000. 20 million API calls at the rate of 150 calls per hour. Or roughly 15 years of elapsed API time to index year one.
It also helps to know that Twitter is, and has always been, a MySQL shop, and that in the early days there was a theory about scaling databases by using large auto-increment offsets. (I don’t remember what the logic of that was) That started about 6 months in, was turned off for a while, and periodically drifted. So good news the 20 million ID space is very sparse, which significantly cuts down on the elapsed API time. You just need to send tracers into the space to map it.
From there it’s just a question of patience.
The whole things runs on a very small EC2 instance, and it’s on this week’s todo list to get the index running under Upstart, but it hasn’t happened yet. So if it goes away….
I think our history is what makes us human, and the push to ephemerality and disposability “as a feature” is misguided. And a key piece of our personal histories is becoming “the story we want to remember”, aka what we’ve shared. I just wanted my old tweets, as a side effect I got all of them.
Providing an interface to the whole corpus was motivated by the desire that folks would investigate where the social norms arose, exactly like Rabble’s @-reply investigation.
I thought year one was a meaningful symbol. It maps to the time when we were figuring out how to use Twitter, and maps to the time when I felt like the service was working best for me and mine as an “ambient intimacy” service.
Additionally after SxSW 2007 the rate of tweeting increased significantly, making the brute force approach even slower.
Something is going on here, but I’m not sure I can figure out what
from: Sarah Thompson email@example.com
An idea for a blog post: Science and Design Behind Music Production
I’m getting in touch with you because I’m interested in writing an article for your blog. I came across your blog post laughingmeme.org while writing for a website on music production. During my research, I’ve found an increasing focus in terms of design as the tools and technology available today improve our ability to customize how create music and collaborate as musicians
Please let me know if you’d be interested in an article this topic. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
And then a bit earlier
from: Brianna Meiers firstname.lastname@example.org
An idea for a blog post: Aesthetics of Learning
I found the information on your blog http://laughingmeme.org/ insightful as I was scouring the web for research on historical topics that are relevant to issues in higher education today. One of the biggest hurdles in completing an enriching and useful college degree (especially with different organizations such as online schools bombarding students with options) has been the lack of innovation in learning today. I believe that for students today to truly retain useful knowledge, it’s important to design curriculums keeping in mind aesthetics and learning theory.
I’d love to write a post for you that perhaps blends this topic with something deeper you are interested in for your blog. What do you think? Thanks, and I really look forward to hearing from you.
One of the strangest genres of tech blog post is the:
“we abandoned our old clearly suboptimal solution, and we have a new solution which we’re excited about, and we’ll assert our reasoning as to why this solution is clearly awesome, even though we don’t yet have any data on how it performs, or any discussion of why our decision making process for picking this solution was different then the decision making process for picking the last solution.”
You know that argument you’ve gotten into about whether pushing out an experimental feature is a good idea that goes something like, “If we offer this we can never take it back, so let’s be careful”? It’s akin to the argument, “It needs to be perfect, because first impressions are everything.” They’re reasonable fears that often morph into stasis, because we forget that change should feel risky and scary, and if it isn’t then we’re moving to slow.
I imagine if you were going to roll out your own currency system that people exchanged real dollars for that would be an example of something you need to make sure you got right because you could never take it back.
One of the reasons Facebook is where it is is because they don’t subscribe to that mental trap. Refreshing to see.
It’s familiar and unexpected, engaging and unchallenging, swords and sorcery and fallen empires, and deep history, but done well. Economics, and race dynamics, and religion, and archaeology all play roles. Solid multi viewpoint story telling add some novelty to the heroes journeys.
Also a quite reasonable 12-14 months between new books, the 2nd book lived up the promise of the first, and they’re available on Kindle. Really everything you could ask for if you’re looking for a good fantasy novel. Recommended.
I also tried reading some of this “Poet Books” (officially called the “Long Price Quartet”). They dragged considerably more, but a couple of interesting ideas in there.
The two hour interview I did for this piece was a nice culmination of the last 4 years I’ve spent thinking about what makes the New York tech scene different and special. In retrospect editing it down to 7 seconds was even better. In the words of the mayor, “NYC is where the best and brightest come to shine”.
This February, Amazon again asserted its influence when it pulled nearly 5,000 titles by distributor Independent Publishers Group from its Kindle e-book store. Amazon wanted better terms, and IPG said “no.” Amazon.com trying to wring deep discounts from publishers
A thought, as Amazon’s and the publisers’ relationship gets more bruising seems like there is room to be the company listing all the books in print, and where they’re available for purchase. Could be classically disruptive business (in that it will always be tiny, but with the chance to implode something larger).
Aggregating information from a diverse set of sources all over the world is the sort of thing which even 10 years ago was hard, and is now straightforward as long as you have the right motivational loops in place.
We moved (back) to New York July 2008. We drove, though I only made it half way across the country before I had to have Jasmine drop me off at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport because I suddenly had to get back to work.
That first year we were living in a traditional Williamsburg apartment: a zoned light industrial, lightly converted for human habitation loft space (above the Roebling Tea Room in that big brick building). And it was a hot, and sticky Summer. Not like this last Summer. It was a lie awake at night sweating, slightly fevered thoughts blending with the sounds of a city that wasn’t sleeping coming through the open windows. It wasn’t an easy transition that Summer. It was amazing, but not easy. And in circumstances like that you find comfort in odd places.
And one of those places was my laundromat. Really. You see it felt like New York. It was big. It was full of a people who weren’t like me. It was open 24 hours. This was a laundromat for New York. And sitting in the laundromat, at 3am, in shorts and sandals, watching a world swirl by I felt like a New Yorker. I felt like I’d broken free from the normal rules, and I was living a new negotiated existence in a city of possibility.
So odd as it is, I’m going to miss my laundromat. We don’t live around the corner anymore. And the wave of gentrification of which we’re a part has swept us along and left us with our own washer/dryer. The bagel store on the corner is gone as well, rumored to be a Starbucks, so there was never going to be another hot sticky night of laundry and bialy anyway. And I’ll miss it.
“… because as soon as we started [pinning] for you it really became our civilization.” – omgrobot10
Saturday Jasmine and I put together omgrobot10, which is really the “Hello, world” of a particular branch of New Aesthetic. It motivated/exercised some code, and it amused us. But something unexpected also fell out of it.
“culture is the interference of two programs being executed in information proximity”
omgrobot10 is continuously repeating a very simple rule set. Spontaneity is added entirely by it’s interactions with people. As expected. What was unexpected was how it would interact with other actors also continuously repeating a very simple rule set. And no, that isn’t a dig at Pinterest users.
You see what I found almost immediately was, “TheDress”.
“OMG!!! I love this dress! I bought it for a cruise last year, and got many many compliments.”
In the first 24 hours omgrobot10 re-pinned TheDress from 6 different accounts, all for whom it was a fond memory of last year’s cruise. Since then omgrobot10 has re-pinned TheDress 17 times from 17 difference accounts.
What’s interesting is the TheDress also works fine in the noisy and spontaneous space that is the “Pinterest > Everything” page largely populated by humans. But it’s simple expectations clash with the simple expectations of omgrobot10.
There is also DeskOrganizer, who follows a similar agenda as TheDress, a tireless activist for a particular product that it has become fixated with it. But DeskOrganizer seems more content to be patient, play the long game, TheDress wants to get it’s message out now, at least ombrobot10 has only encountered it 4 times.
But both of them have formed a mutually beneficial relationship with omgrobot10. The interference of their programs creating a robotic culture of what looks, from the outside human perspective (and therefore deeply uninformed) , as mutual aid.
See also, the ethnography of robots.
I’m going to be at Kick, Saturday morning, 9:30am
I’m going to be at Frank, at 10am sharp Sunday morning as they don’t take brunch reservations
I’ll be at Made in NY, at the Cedar Room Sunday night, because Etsy’s presence at SxSW this year is low-key/unofficial like.
I’ll be at “New Aesthetic” 9:30 Monday morning, because “Maps, Books, and Spimes” was one of my all time favorite SxSW talks, and this looks like it will be at least as much fun. And I want to see a drone.
I’ll be at World Changing 2.0 at 12:30 on Tuesday because Cameron Sinclair’s “Open Architecture Challenge: Revisioning Decommisioned Military Facilities” was fucking awesome, and I’m looking forward to more.
I’ll be at Bruce Sterling 5pm Tuesday, because I once taught a class on global politics using the text of “Islands in the Net”, and it’s Bruce Sterling!
I’ll be selling gold on black “Just Ship” shirts, with any luck using a prototype Etsy mobile payment system. So if you’ve wanted a “Just Ship” shirt, this is your opportunity.
I might make a pilgrimage to Opal Divine’s as the thing I missed most bitterly at SxSW last year was the indie “Data Drinks”, and I strongly encourage people to organize and publicize “[important technical topic here] Drinks”, rather then trying to communicate then on a panel. (e.g. y’all “Decentralized Web” and “SSO” folks ought to plan something, somewhere in the afternoon with “Mexican Martinis”)
I’m hoping to have some success booking small to medium sized group meals, mixed results so far.
Beyond that I’ll be around hoping to meet great people.
What are your plans?
That history is written by the winners is at least in part an unfortunate artifact of poor storage and retrieval technologies, and a poor backup regime.
I love Photojojo’s TimeCapsule. TwitShift is delightful. And I’m sure in time I’ll come to feel the same way about TimeHop. Like many people of my generation I’ve spent most of my “adult” life bouncing between jobs, cities, countries, etc. At one point Jasmine and I calculated that between the two of us we’d moved 14 times in the previous 10 years. Outsourcing memory to silicon in a life that largely lacks useful time signifiers is immensely helpful. But I’m also a bit uncomfortable with how much I like these services. Besides a certain puritan work ethic guilt, they’re deeply narcissistic.
In particular two features bother me:
- they present the world devoid of the people I was sharing it with at the time
- they’re largely constrained to minor modes of participation, e.g. tweets and check-ins.
Rod tweeted out a link yesterday to his 8 years old blog post about Flickr launching, it’s amazing:
It has the standard Friendster-esque friend-browsing capabilities, plus Tribe’s, erm, tribes. So far, so orkut. But what’s super-neato is what’s on top.
First off, you can gradate your friendships. The levels of Acquaintance, Friend, Best Buddy and Soulmate are all available to make the politics of friendship even more precarious. (There’s also a planned-for-the-future level called Enemy which is as-yet unattainable)
Then there’s the funky flash chat-app: an multi-window IRC-lite affair with an emphasis on picture sharing.
This is not the Flickr most people think of, or even that most people remember existed. The Flickr of today is many iterations of lessons learned later, and perfectly binary nature of the digital world largely hides that honing effort, except in the remembrances of those who were there 8 years ago.
I’d like that as a service. Send me what my friends were writing 8 years ago today-ish. Their long form work. We could start with blogs, tease out books and papers later, eventually troll The Archive for projects they were launching.
Over coffee this morning I thought about how you’d do it just for blogs. And I decided I wasn’t going to try to build it this morning as it clearly was going to take longer then 20 minutes.
My first thought was using RSS. It has fairly well understood semantics for permalink and publish date extraction. But you’d really only be able to start at this moment in time, not have the last decade plus of historical record.
You could build a time machine and go back and make sure either good semantic markup/microformats got adopted or that the RSS pagination specs became the norm. But if you’ve got a time machine fixing those issues aren’t even on my top 10 list for you.
Continuing on the time machine line of thought, one of the old aggregators, like Bloglines could offer the service assuming IAC still has the archives around. (oh wait, looks like they sold Bloglines to MerchantCircle, huh)
Not sure how interesting/practical the above are.
So then I started thinking about all the folks over the years who built blog crawlers with logic for doing date and permalink extraction, and even summarization. Some quick Googling turned up nothing useful in terms of documented techniques or code. But I figure someone has just got to have some code lying around, yes?
Could you please build this? (or barring that, send pointers on papers/code/etc)
photo by sweetfineday
In our 2012, “Most Williamsburg” contest, Mike White has taken an early lead with his bacon infused pour over technique.
“This is how I use my Chemex filters. ”
There’s a hilarious answer to the question Why are software development task estimations regularly off by a factor of 2-3? floating around now. Hilarious, deeply knowing, but not terrible accurate or actionable.
But buried in the comments was this gem from Neil K, which I’m going to quote, in it’s entirety, for truth (Neil has, after all, seen more sausage getting made at more of the places whose tools you use then nearly anyone):
This is really good, but if I can offer a suggestion — the analogy could be even more apt with a slight shift. Currently it only shows how people go wrong when they develop software in a naive way — by starting at the beginning, and coding each step to final quality, in order. The story, as written now, makes it look like writing software is just an impossible slog and nobody can do it.
The truth is, software is research. It’s a matter of discovering the solution, not plodding through it. This is implicit in your story, because they keep encountering unexpected problems. But let’s make it explicit.
Imagine, instead, that our intrepid pair is charged with mapping the coastline of California from SF to LA. Mapping is more like software development because it involves discovery, and getting things right at multiple “points”.
The naive mappers start off from SF and it all fails exactly as you outline. A more clever pair of mappers instead decide to hire a boat, and map just a few points on the coastline precisely, just to get a rough estimate, and to survey the coastline for the tricky places. Then they know where to apply their efforts — an intern can be hired to pace out some of the easy bits, and a team of well-equipped hikers can be brought in to handle the hard parts.
They can even stop when they have a map that is just good enough.
Regarding Twitter’s recent changes:
Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.
I mostly agree with Simon’s excellent post on his experience of adding this feature Flickr, and I18N in the broader Yahoo context, summarized as:
(1) Online companies have (and should have) little to no power to alter a country’s laws. (2) Online companies have an obligation to follow the law in places where they do business. (3) The revolution will not be Twitter-fied (4) The internet transcends borders; most laws do not. (5) Assumptions of malice are generally misguided, moreso in the face of opposing evidence
I’m also deeply appreciative that he took the time to write it.
I also mostly agree with Blaine’s related assertion
Twitter is a corporation, not a radical or even progressive platform. The internet, though, is.
There’s a topic I’m deeply conflicted about in there, and I’m not even sure what it is.
I’m not remotely conflicted that the Internet’s unthinking freak out is counter productive and poorly informed. (probably due to so much of what passes for dialogue these days being conducted in 140 characters and proxy gossip rags)
Anyone who followed or engaged with the recent SOPA/PIPA protest hopefully left it with an appreciation for the dangers inherent in allowing companies to craft legislation
Creates for me a worrying abrogation of our rights as moral individuals working within a corporate system to improve the world.
When Google went into China refusing to adapt, and later pulled out because they refused to adapt to the limits of that market’s law was that them being the MPAA forcing their corporate vision on unsuspecting foreign citizens or was that them taking a principled stand for a better world? (and that they pulled out also because they got hacked, and because Baidu was probably kicking their ass somewhat undermines my point, but there are so few examples to point to at scale we’ll take this one. If you’ve got a better one, love to hear about it)
I was never comfortable with the line we walked at Flickr, it felt like we accepted too many restrictions as “the price of doing business”, but in a resource constrained tiny organization inside a much larger corporate behemoth there is a moral fig leaf to hide behind. Twitter has significantly less to hide behind. It’s a line that Etsy walks as well. We don’t, for example, allow you to sell vintage Nazi paraphernalia in any jurisdiction.
Additionally Simon, and Heather, and others who actively shaped our international policy were:
- Transparent with our community that we were doing it
- Transparent when content was being hidden and why (for country restrictions or DMCA or whatnot).
If you’re going to do per country filtering, I can’t think of two better principles to put in place, and these are the principles that Twitter mentioned in their blog post.
Fundamentally this is one of the tensions in centralizing all your communications into a small handful of privately held, globally scaled, profit motivated corporations, and then centralizing people into semi-archaic, geo-political niche regulated markets we like to call countries.
(In the misattributed, misquoted, and then deeply munged words of Mark Twain, “I’m sorry, if I was clearer on what I believed, I would have written less.”)
- (aka the fuzzies, or the blacked out images, transparency around this wasn’t perfect, and didn’t arrive all at once. Iteration was needed.)